The Baltimore Ravens are indeed playing with house money, as they not only helped themselves by winning this past Sunday, but also got some help from the Kansas City Chiefs, as they downed the San Diego Chargers! They travel to a familiar place this Saturday night, to take on the Steelers in Pittsburgh, with a chance to knock out their fiercest rival out of the playoffs, while extending their season against the Patriots up in Foxboro the following weekend.
There is a mind set out there that the Steelers can beat the Ravens with or without their mercurial running back, Le’Veon Bell. That remains to be seen, as Bell is not only terrific at carrying the rock, but also catching it too! He is very much quarterback’s Ben Roethlisberger’s safety valve, and is also used extensively in the passing game by offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Plus he absolutely stonewalls blitzing linebackers to boot!
Consider that when he hyperextended his knee against the Bengals, the other two Steeler running backs managed just 6 yards on 6 carries. The Ravens will field a makeshift secondary, but that secondary has been playing relatively well the past few weeks. Ladarius Webb is playing much better, as he looks like he is overcoming the physical ailments that have plagued him all season long. The 6’2″ Tamba Bay outcast Rashaan Melvin has been solid, as has Ravens free safety Will Hill. Even Matt Elam has flashed some play making ability from his “in the box” strong safety position. Unlike many Ravens faithful, I have not given up on Elam. He’s played out of position all season, primarily because he has been healthy, is familiar with the defense, and played centerfield with some success last year (remember the Detroit game, where he absolutely shut down Megatron)? His natural position is strong safety, playing close to the line of scrimmage, where he come blow up plays before they start. He had back to back plays late in the Cleveland game, which were used and factored in some Cleveland “3 and out” situations.
It looks like Tim Jernigan is going to be out for quite a while. He rolled that ankle and I am afraid it’s going to take a long time for it to heal. I can’t see him coming back and participating in these playoffs, which is a shame because in my opinion, Jernigan has been playing like a first round draft pick! Which brings us to one Haloti Ngata. He’s been out the last 4 weeks due to a PED suspension, and who knows if he is going to be in football shape. We should have our answer early in the first quarter. If somehow he can contribute and be the wrecking ball that he was prior to the suspension, that would be huge along with the pressure that Suggs, Dumervil and McPhee can apply. By the way, who’s Ben Roethlisberger’s back up these days? With the pressure that the Ravens front 4 can bring, it is a possibility that we will find out!
The key to this game is going to be the Ravens’ offense once again. Terrell Suggs said many years ago – after a bitter and tough loss on the road to the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars – that “anytime to go on the road, you pack your defense and your running game.” No doubt the Ravens defense travels well. They’ve done enough on the road to give this team a chance to win, all year long. The games at Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Houston quickly come to mind. Can Gary Kubiak create a scheme and can the Ravens players execute that scheme to rush for 150 yards against the Steelers’ defense! That would help to keep Roethlisberger on the bench, and reduce his offense’s chances of putting up points on the Ravens.
Can the Ravens get positive yards on FIRST down? They cannot afford to be in 2nd and 11 or 3rd and 15 situations against this Steelers’ defense. Yes, they – like the Ravens – are vulnerable on the back end, but can get after Flacco with rush ends James Harrison and Jason Worilds. I’m not too worried about Worilds, because he is going up against Mr. Nasty himself, Marshall Yanda. The problem is at left tackle, where undrafted free agent James Hurst will have the task of slowing down Harrison. Hopefully they’ll give him some help, and not leave him on an island like they left Rick Wagner up in Houston against certain first ballot future Hall of Famer JJ Watt!
Believe me, the Ravens’ offensive line and the running game are the keys to ending Pittsburgh’s season. This game, this stage is not too big for the Ravens. They don’t have to worry about taking away Le’Veon Bell – the Bengals took care of that. They can afford to take away Antonio Brown, and let youngsters like Martavis Bryant, Marcus Wheaton, or aging veterans like Heath Miller and Lance Moore beat them, that’s what I’m betting on! Cover Brown with Webb underneath, and with Hill over the top.
I am sure that the Ravens players are looking forward to this matchup! Guys like Suggs, Dumervil, Ngata and Mosley are sure to be fired up. But so are guys like Steve Smith Sr. (think he wants to win a Super Bowl?) and Owen Daniels! Bottom line is that the Ravens are depleted in the secondary, offensive line, and are road underdogs. But…..they are playing with house money!